Office 365 and Business Intelligence
Posted by Alan on August 5, 2011
So yesterday I spent the afternoon at Microsoft learning more about the new Office 365 offering. All in all, I am very impressed by what you get with Office 365 for the cost. When you looking at the pricing the Exchange, Lync, SharePoint and Office Professional offerings the decision to go that route should be a no-brainer for most organizations — especially those who are running older software releases or have hardware refreshes in their near future. So what is my problem with the Office 365? It all comes down to the SharePoint component, or more specifically, what is missing from the SharePoint 365 offering.
As far as SharePoint is concerned, in the current Office 365 release there is no support for the following items — PerformancePoint Services, Business Connectivity Services, FAST search or fully-trusted code. Without PerformancePoint Services and BCS the ability to provide BI in the Microsoft public cloud is extremely limited. It all comes down to the fact that none of these components is designed to be multi-tenant and although Microsoft is working on solutions the word I keep hearing is that we won’t see any changes until the wave 15 release of Office or beyond. It is the “or beyond” that scares me and makes me worry how much of a priority any of these items truly have, if at all. And when Denali is release, I really doubt we will see any sort of support for SSRS or Project Crescent within SharePoint 365 for quite a while.
Now it is true that SharePoint 365 does support Excel Services, Access Services, Visio Services and PowerPivot. However, as I have been informed, all your data has to reside within the SharePoint environment as well. This means any type of dashboard or scorecard or analysis you can do using these tools will be difficult as you will have to constantly be uploading Excel spreadsheets or Access databases to SharePoint in order to have updated data. Although I suppose you could possible use the SharePoint 365 web services and create some code that resides in your on-premise environment that could automatically populate Excel with data and upload it automatically to SharePoint on a scheduled basis. Something I will have to look into I suppose.
However, even if the auto-load with web services is possible you run into the next issue — default storage limits. With each seat of Exchange 365 the user gets 25 GB (yes 25 GB — how cool is that!) of email storage, yet for each deployment of SharePoint 365 the organization gets 10 GB per deployment and 500 MB per user. Isn’t there a disconnect here? You get 50 times more storage space for email than you do for documents — it is almost as if Microsoft is saying that you should use Exchange as your document store. With PowerPivot I regularly have workbooks that are 1 or 2 GB in size. You can do the math on this one, but any organization serious about using PowerPivot in SharePoint 365 will most likely be paying extra very quickly.
Right now the answer from Microsoft is that you can use SharePoint 365 for your “traditional” SharePoint deployments and then do an on-premise deployment for those other components that are not supported. What I was told (and still waiting confirmation so don’t use this as gospel) is that a user license for SharePoint 365 counts as a on-premise SharePoint CAL so you don’t have to pay twice (although you would still have to buy the SharePoint server license). But I really can’t see most organizations splitting their deployments. I think the most likely scenario is that they either keep it all on-premise or if they do go SharePoint 365 then they end up using some sort of other BI solution that is hosted in-house. I could be wrong. I guess only time will tell.
So begins my love/hate relationship with SharePoint 365.